Posts Tagged ‘American black vulture’

Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are not that common in West Virginia. The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is much more common.  The way you tell them apart is that turkey vultures have a longer wingspan and all the flight feathers are light-colored. Only the flight feathers towards the tip are light-colored on black vultures.

I came across a flock of four black vultures that were cruising in the sky with a single turkey vulture, and then I realized I hadn’t photographed this species before. So took a few photographs.

So here are my first photos of a black vulture. They aren’t the best photos, but they are pretty cool to me.




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American black vultures are coming to eat your babies.

American black vultures are coming to eat your babies.

American black vultures are generally creatures of the subtropical South. They are far more widespread in Latin America than they are in the US, and most people who live north of Virginia have never heard of them. That is, until now.

For some reason, perhaps climate change, the black vultures are gradually working their way northward. Some have been spotted a little north of their current range, which is thought to be constricted mainly south of New York state.

In my home state, however, these birds are becoming more and more common.

This would not be such a big deal if they were like the turkey vulture, a related species that nests throughout the Americas, including parts of Canada. The turkey vulture has a wonderful sense of smell and can smell dead things deep within the forest. It is a larger bird than the black, but its habits are essentially benign. Just don’t go near their nests, or they’ll vomit on you. They also defecate on their legs to keep themselves cool in the summer.

But the black vulture is also a predator. It is perhaps best known from nature documentaries where it lands on beach in Costa Rica where rare sea turtles have laid their eggs. As the little turtles hatch, the black vultures (and the dogs, coatis, coyotes, crabs, and villagers catch them for dinner). In my neck of the woods, though, the animal is a threat to livestock. They are much more of a threat to lambs and kids than calves.

But my guess is that people will start shooting both species of vulture, albeit illegally. All vultures in the US, including the endangered California condor, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It’s going to be a shame, because the turkey vulture isn’t any kind of threat to anything. The juvenile turkey vulture, though, has a black head, which means it’s in big trouble.

I hate to see any animal persecuted just because it gets in the way of some human enterprise or is thought to be in the way of a human enterprise. But this is how people behave in this day and age. I still hear horry horror tales about what coyotes do– they’ll eat your golden retriever, they say (hasn’t happened in all the years I’ve had golden retrievers running in the woods with coyotes) or they’ll eat someone (definitely hasn’t happened yet).

BTW, I should tell you that New World vultures are not closely related to Old World vultures. There is an Old World black vulture, but it is not the same species we have here. Old World vultures are related to hawks and eagles. New World vultures are far more closley related to storks (and if you ever seen a wood stork, you can see the resemblance). These New World species are derived from scavenging storks that specialized in eating carrion. The black vulture still has the stork’s hunting ability, while the condors and the turkey vultures have lost it.

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